The IKEA experience

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There is no IKEA in South Africa. In fact, I hadn’t even heard of IKEA before coming to Europe, which most people here find unbelievable, considering it’s the largest furniture store chain in the world.
So for us South Africans coming to Europe, a trip to IKEA is an outing in itself.

Basically the central concept of IKEA (a Swedish chain) is build-it-yourself furniture and a shop that is laid out like a sightseeing tour of rooms, followed by an area selling household items and then a warehouse selling the boxes of furniture. Here is the general IKEA experience:

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1) Start off by having a meal in their restaurant, as you will need energy for the journey through the shop ahead of you.Their Swedish meatballs (kötbullar) with potatoes, a creamy brown sauce and lignonberry jam (tastes like cranberries) are famous. Now they offer vegetable balls too, probably for those who were scared off the meat ones after traces of horse meat were found in one batch (and of course for bona fide vegetarians too). Not that there really seems to be an ethical difference between eating horse meat compared to eating meat from cows or pigs, somehow people are just used to eating cows and pigs. At any rate, normally the meatballs are made of pork and beef, and I guess they keep stricter control over this now. I heard that they also make chicken meatballs, which is nice for those who don’t eat pork, but I didn’t see them in the store I went to (I get the feeling Germans are not big on chicken, whereas pork is ubiquitous).

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2) Head off to the circular trip around the show rooms. Here you can see a variety of rooms laid out, and it is like visiting someone’s house, except that everything in the rooms is from the store and can be bought. They have pieces of paper and pencils around, and you can write down the numbers of the items that interest you. As well as the decorated rooms, a selection of furniture is on display. There are also tape measures to measure the different pieces of furniture so that you can see how it would fit into your own room (and go home and measure your own room). All the rooms look so nice and neat and clean, very Scandinavian, with simple and functional design in white, black and bold colour blocks. It makes you want to move right in (legend has it somebody did once). You typically see people relaxing in the various chairs around, contemplating how life would be in an IKEA furnished room.

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…But don’t make yourself too much at home 😉 (“Dear clients, you can find toilets at the entrance and in the restaurant!”)

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3) Now that you’ve been inspired you can grab a bag or trolley and search the shop section for household items: dishes, cups, towels, duvets, cushions, you name it. I’ve seen IKEA items all around Europe in apartments and hotels, so I guess it’s the go-to source for basic household items. In the first apartment I rented in Berlin,  pretty much everything was from IKEA. They even sell prints on posterboard for basic decoration.

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On the one hand, having a variety of different styles of furniture around would be more interesting, on the other hand, if you just want to quickly and basically furnish your place, their products are functional and fairly attractive. I think my favourite item from there is their block shelves (Kallax), for example, this one. You buy the basic shelf (available in different colours), and can then mix and match from various types of inserts in different colours and styles, or just leave it as an open shelf if you prefer. It’s great for storing all sorts of things.

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4) Last stop is through the warehouse, where you can pick up the items you chose in the storeroom. The furniture is all packed into cardboard boxes so that they are easier to transport, and come with diagrams explaining how to assemble them, although you can also pay extra to have IKEA assemble them for you. But half the fun is in building them yourself, in my opinion. Although it can be exhausting. I’ve only put together one IKEA piece before, which was a slatted table/desk with drawers. A (South African) friend invited me around to help her build it, and it took a while in the beginning to figure out how the joining system of IKEA worked,  based on the somewhat cryptic diagrams. However when we succeeded in the end we felt very proud.

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And that is pretty much the IKEA experience. Apparently they have no plans to open stores in South Africa any time soon. But if you go somewhere else where they have a store, it might be fun to check it out.
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